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clock Jul 6, 2007 11:00 pm US/Eastern

Staff to NHC Director: It's Time To Leave

Hurricane Director Under Fire From His Bosses

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Evan Bacon
Reporting

(CBS4) WEST MIAMI-DADE Key staff members of the National Hurricane Center in Miami called upon the center's director to resign Friday, saying Bill Proenza has poisoned the atmosphere at the center and needs to leave.

The statement this morning echoed the sentiments expressed in a letter, signed by staff members including Proenza's own secretary and key hurricane forecasters, demanding his departure. A group of those employees spoke with reporters Friday morning to explain their decision.

Speaking for the group, hurricane specialist James Franklin said the petition signed by the group was a 'reluctant' plea for help from their superiors at NOAA, after they had tried without success to work through what Franklin termed serious issues at the center.

Franklin said the staffers took the step of going public reluctantly because they believed their concerns would not be heard by their boss at NOAA.

"We wanted them to know, unambiguously, that we need Bill to leave. He has misrepresented the views of his staff repeatedly, chronically, he's done it in today's comments in the Herald," said Franklin, referring to an interview appearing in Friday's editions of the Miami Herald.

"The people who signed that letter are not afraid of losing their jobs," said Franklin. "What they are afraid of is not being able to do their jobs effectively, and protect the American people from tropical cyclones."

On Thursday, a letter circulated which was signed by seven hurricane forecasters and 16 other employees stating that the center needs a new director in place.

One excerpt from the letter posted on the Miami Herald website reads, "An unfortunate public debate is now occurring over the ability of the National Hurricane Center to meet its mission. The undersigned staff of the National Hurricane Center has concluded that the center needs a new Director, and with the heart of the hurricane season fast approaching, urges the Department of Commerce to make this happen as quickly as possible."

Friday, the group which appeared with Franklin was even more blunt.

"Bill has poisoned the atmosphere here at the hurricane center," Franklin told reporters. "We're a small group. We have enormous responsibility. We are responsible for the safety of millions and millions of people that we don't know...but he's divided the staff, he's dismissive of the staff, he doesn't respect the staff. He lies about what we say, and it was time for us to clearly state that there are two sides to this story."

CBS4's Shomari Stone briefly caught up to Proenza in the parking lot of the hurricane center, but he only gave a short, positive comment about his staff.

"I really appreciate the professionalism of the staff," he said. "It's a great staff."

Proenza has been outspoken almost since the day he was appointed as National Hurricane Center director about problems with a forecasting satellite he believes is crucial for accurate hurricane predictions.

Proenza has also criticized NOAA for engaging in an expensive public relations campaign instead of making efforts to replace the satellite. He also criticized reprimands by his superiors as an attempt to keep him from speaking out on the issue.

While Proenza appeared to initially have the support of his staff, that support has eroded as the feud between Proenza and his bosses grew.

The spat comes as South Florida moves into the height of hurricane season, and some forecasters have said they believe the battle is confusing the public about the center's ability to do its job, and that the fight was interfering with the Hurricane Center's mission.

Hurricane season began June 1 and ends November 30th.

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(© MMVII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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